"I’m proud of myself for surviving": how Dana Dentata overcame trauma to find empowerment

Dana Dentata, 2020 promo pic
(Image credit: Michael Mendoza)

In a strip joint in the bowels of Hell, Dana Dentata (opens in new tab) circles a pole. Dressed as an angel, she’s watched by a silent demon, until moments later, she and a group of winged companions set upon him … and disembowel him. 

The scene is part of Dana’s 20-minute 2020 performance art piece, The Resurrection Of Dana Dentata. The demon, she says. was an open representation of the toxic men and people in her life who had emotionally, physically and sexually abused her for over 15 years.

Dana’s music, which sees her rap, sing and scream over horror-inspired hip hop and thrash and industrial metal, is rife with themes of rebirth, empowerment and taking back control of her own body. ‘I’m a boss, bitch,’ she raps on I.U.D, a track from her debut album pantychrist (opens in new tab), ‘Somebodies gettin' pregnant/ That somebody's not me/ Don't wanna get knocked up/ That's why I got an I.U.D.” She wrote the song Apology, which blends an anthemic, Britney (opens in new tab)-inspired chorus with a mutilated, Trent Reznor (opens in new tab)-esque aggro-beat, in a breakthrough moment where she finally processed her traumatic past: ‘I'm sick of being silenced/ It's not my fault that/ The truth is in the violence.’

We sat down with the boundary-pushing superstar-in-waiting for an, often emotional, conversation about the pain behind her visually extreme, lyrically brutal and often confrontational art.

Metal Hammer line break

What are your first memories of getting into metal?

“I feel like not a lot of people know this about me, but I started an all-girl punk metal band when I was 18 called Dentata, which is why my name is Dana Dentata. Even when I was little, Chocolate Starfish (opens in new tab) was my first CD. I was 11 years old. I loved Limp Bizkit (opens in new tab) and Manson (opens in new tab) since I was 11 years old, but then Britney Spears. I was always open to so much music and, and when I was 18, I started to get obsessed with metal. I was a metal nerd - the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (opens in new tab) – loved it, nerded out on it. All these obscure metal bands, all that metal snobby stuff - I was like that. I was super-into Angel Witch (opens in new tab) and Pentagram (opens in new tab). I loved Motörhead (opens in new tab) and Diamond Head (opens in new tab).

“When I started my band, we were experimental punk. We didn’t really know how to play our instruments. There was a really good metal scene in Toronto, where I’m from; I played guitar and I wanted to get as good at guitar as all these metal guys around me.

“We were very influenced by Motörhead and Black Sabbath (opens in new tab) and we covered Plasmatics (opens in new tab), Girlschool (opens in new tab) and Metallica’ (opens in new tab)s Jump Into The Fire. But I think I burned myself out on metal, and I was like, ‘But there’s all this other stuff going on in the world’. There’s all these other scenes and cultures. I think that was very forward thinking of me; knowing how much everything is a hybrid now.

Being a female band and playing with metalheads, the way we were treated and looked at, I didn’t feel respected. We weren’t trying to be this feminist, riot grrr (opens in new tab)l or whatever band, but when I see old videos, it’s all young girls at the front going crazy. I think we were doing something so important, and it was so overlooked because we were in the metal scene. It was like, ‘unless you have this guitar amp and this head, and you’re doing this on this level, you’re not metal enough.’ It’s about heart and soul, not technicality. The fitting in, wearing the leather jacket; looking like you’re a metalhead. I don’t want to be tied down to that.”

So metal came before hip hop?

“Oh yeah. I loved Eminem (opens in new tab) and DMX (opens in new tab) as a kid too but my teenage years getting into music was strictly metal.”

Dana D

(Image credit: Roadrunner)

What’s the story behind The Resurrection Of Dana Dentata?  It looked like fallen angels feeding on a demon, Women taking back space, taking up space and not taking shit. Is that along the right lines?

“A hundred percent. Doing this project as a solo artist, in the last couple of years I had a different demon with me for all my shows and videos, and that was created because I felt like any man that was around me was an actual demon. So why don’t I make that real? He represents all the men in my life. It was cool and fun, but then I realised I’m manifesting and perpetuating having shitty men and toxic people in my life by having this demon. Then I got to a point where I wanted to kill off the demon from my art. I didn’t want to have it anymore, because I didn’t want to have it in my life. And in so many ways it was finally putting that to bed and that not having control over me anymore. Even if I’m not experiencing that abuse anymore, I’m still swimming in it. I talk about this a lot. When you’re reactionary you’re still a slave to what has repressed you. When you act reactionary. When you go, ‘Yeah, well you know what, fuck you!” It’s more about just being responsible for myself and my well-being. I don’t need to have that and killed it off. It brought me back to life.”

So you took back control?

“Absolutely because I did not have control before that.”

Do you mean you’ve had shitty relationships and abusive people in your life?

“I feel like it’s important for me to be open and define what exactly I’m talking about because I think the only reason we don’t do that is because of shame, and all that does is prevent us from progressing. It’s so normalised so we should talk fluidly talk about it because it’s fluidly happening to us constantly. I lost my mom, two weeks before I turned 14 and I was put by family and friends into modelling at 14 years old. Right after. And then at the same time, I was groomed by an older man. There’s all these loopholes in Canada and the legal age of consent was 14 at the time. I ended up being raped by on my 16th birthday. I was so young and inexperienced sexually, I actually did not know and could not speak on this experience until the last year because I did not know what happened to me. I did not understand. I thought that was what sex was.

“Because one of my first sexual experiences ever was that, I thought, 'Oh, this is normal, this is what being with someone is’, and so I ended up having Stockholm Syndrome with this person and I saw them on and off for years.

“The way sex was for me after that, all those years, I didn’t know that it being very painful and not enjoyable for me physically – I didn’t realise wasn’t normal or right, because I had no one to talk to and share these things. Pretty much from 16 to even like two years ago, I experienced a mass amount of various sexual abuse, rape. I’ve had abusive relationships in my life, and then being in the modelling industry at 14 years old. A lot didn’t feel right about that, and I’m only now coming to terms with OK, my body was not mine. Ever. I wasn’t allowed to dress myself even.

“I just realised that one of the modelling agencies that signed me when I was 15 was funded and founded by Jeffrey Epstein and his best friend actually signed me to Jeffrey Epstein’s agency and my dad was ready to send me off to Miami to go live. I know I wasn’t going there to model. I looked so young and I was so vulnerable. It’s been fucking hell on earth for me, there was a lot of trauma.”

Why did you dad put you into modelling?

“I think my mom was my person and when she was gone, they didn’t know what to do with me. My dad wasn’t very involved; he was always working. Then they were sending me to Milan by myself and I lived there by myself. That was not good. No 16-year-old should be in the industry by herself in a different country a year or two after her mom’s passed away. I remember telling them I don’t want to go, I want to go to therapy because I miss my mom. They were like, well get you a therapist when you’re in Milan. That never happened. I think they thought this will be good for her it’ll take up her time but that wasn’t the right thing”

It sounds like you were completely let down

“By everybody.”

There are a lot of themes of rebirth and resurrection on pantychrist, which is understandable given what you just told me. It sounds like, on Apology, you’ve almost come to peace with what you’ve been through, if indeed you can ever come to peace with it.

“That original incident – this is TMI and very fucking dark – but, the actual location of the rape was at the cemetery where my mother was buried. I now understand, I’ve learned so much in the last year, that when you experience something that is so outside your window of tolerance, for that to happen to me at that place, at that time, it was so extreme, I actually left my body. I was gone. That’s part of disassociation. I know now about all the mental disorders that I’ve experienced because it was, no did I survive. I left my body. There’s also derealisation, depersonalisation disorder which made everything made sense because my whole life I was like that never happened to me, that happened to this girl in a movie. You make it like it’s a movie, so it feels detached from you. Ever since that moment, I never went back to my body because there was no love, no affection just sexual abuse and modelling industry and that’s all I had.

“I have been dissociating for the last 15 years and I don’t think I ever went back in my body. I don’t think I ever felt safe.

“So when the pandemic happened, I was in LA, in my apartment alone, and I had nothing to do but look at myself in the mirror. It started creeping, all these things I just told you about the abuse, I had not unlocked those yet. It started to slowly bubble up and this is all while I’m in the middle of making my album. I call it my spiritual awakening / psychotic breakdown. All this shit started getting ready to come out. It wanted to come out and I was physically vibrating inside because there was so much that I didn’t know yet. I ended up not eating or taking care of myself or sleeping at all, I think for seven days. I was in my apartment all day, phone off. I was going insane. I could only talk to this one person from Canada and she had never heard me like this before, she was so scared.

“I was like, ‘Why didn’t I die yet? Why am I still alive?’, just freaking out. I couldn’t function. Then I had this out of body experience where I left my body. My mom’s spirit and this other spirit that follows me from time to time they came to me, took me out of my body and they showed me. It’s like I left my body, and I was floating above the universe looking down on Earth, zoomed in on the house I lived in when I was 14. They showed me my life as a movie in fast forward and they pointed out everything that happened to me. Then I woke up and all of a sudden, I didn’t know I had disassociation disorder or derealisation or what those were, I didn’t know how much I was raped in my life. When I woke up, I knew everything. I could see clearer. I could taste food. Colours were brighter and it was like I was a totally different person. Nothing was ever the same from that moment and for the rest of my life that will be the most important thing that’s ever happened to me.

“I’ve been able to heal my body. It makes me emotional because it’s painful shit, you know? But I’m proud of myself. I’ve been able to heal and overcome and not be angry and paranoid and scared and love myself and understand myself and take accountability for the rough round I’ve had. I understand everything now and I see it. It was the best thing that’s ever happened to me. Before I was chaos and I was responding to trauma constantly. It was like I didn’t know who I was. Now I know who the fuck I am, and I know what happened to me. I have no shame about it whatsoever and I’m proud of myself for surviving. It exploded out of me”

pantychrist is a super-empowering album.

“I wrote all those songs while I was experiencing that. When I wrote Apology, I was about to break through to myself. Right before that breakthrough happened. I could feel my veins coursing with how important this time was for me to look in the mirror. I am talking about other people in the beginning. I’m not you, you’re projecting on me. I’m not the enemy. But by the end of the song I’m screaming in the mirror at myself. You need to look in the mirror and fucking face yourself. The truth is in the fucking violence that I have endured, and it is for other people. We’re all so angry at other people and it doesn’t heal us. It doesn’t help. You can only control you.”

The beats on pantychrist seem very inspired by horror. Are you a fan?

“I love dark stuff. I love horror movies. I love mixing creepy, dark shit with pretty, nice, cute things. I think when you experience extreme darkness, extreme light comes with it. I feel like my life has been a horror movie, so maybe I’m comfortable with that. But there’s that saying, the most beautiful flowers grow from the deepest, darkest mud.”

Visually your art is very extreme…

“People my whole life doing this, have always pushed me to dull it down and make it easier to consume and less extreme. When you make it pretentious and arty, you lose the direct message. I have such a direct message. I don’t consider myself a rapper, but I have things I need to say very clearly, so that’s why it’s coming out in this style. I need it to be in your fucking face because we are tiptoeing around it. Even the word ‘rape’ is trigger word, we should be careful about using that. I’m like, yeah but my whole life has been that and a lot of people I know too have experienced that, so I’m not going to be repressed by not saying my fucking truth and experience. It’s only making it happen more and worse by not addressing it.”

The album feels more extreme now after speaking to you.

“Yeah, listen to it again now and you’re like, holy shit. But I’m glad that you know because knowing now you can hear that album and think, wow, this is a spiritual experience of healing a lifetime of trauma and coming to terms with it.”

pantychrist is out now via Roadrunner Records

Danniii Leivers writes for Classic Rock, Metal Hammer, Prog, The Guardian, NME, Alternative Press, Rock Sound, The Line Of Best Fit and more. She loves the 90s, and is happy where the sea is bluest.